Reprieve investigator testifies tomorrow in rare public hearing on the CIA’s “erroneous” rendition and torture of German citizen Khaled El-Masri

February 3, 2011

In one of the first open-court hearings on the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme, Reprieve investigator Clara Gutteridge will present evidence in a lawsuit brought against the Macedonian government by German rendition victim Khaled El-Masri at 9.30am this Friday 4th February in Skopje, Macedonia.

Clara, now on a one-year fellowship with the Open Justice Initiative, will present the findings of her investigation into the CIA rendition circuit used to transfer both Khaled El-Masri and British resident Binyam Mohamed into secret custody. Her evidence is expected to support Khaled El-Masri’s claim that the Macedonian government was complicit in his ordeal.

Whilst working at Reprieve, Clara unearthed flight details proving that a Boeing 737 plane named N313P transported Khaled El-Masri from Macedonia to Afghanistan, where he was secretly imprisoned and tortured for four months. It also emerged that CIA agents accompanying El-Masri on N313P made two stopovers en route at a five-star hotel in Palma de Mallorca, where they checked in using false passports in order to relax at taxpayers’ expense. El-Masri was finally released without charge or explanation and has since been told that American officials consider his case an “erroneous” rendition.

The US courts have refused to hear El-Masri’s case after government officials invoked ‘state secrets’ doctrine to keep his ordeal out of the public domain. The civil proceedings in Skopje will therefore offer an extremely rare insight into the CIA’s covert programme of extraordinary rendition and unlawful detention, which expanded exponentially during the Bush administration’s ‘War on Terror’.

The court hearing will begin at 9.30am on Friday 4th February, at the Basic Court Skopje II, Goce Delchev Blvd. No. 4, Skopje, and is open to the public. Permission to make audio or video recordings must be sought in advance from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Macedonia. Clara Gutteridge will be available for comment directly after the hearing, and on Friday afternoon by appointment.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “The US government has admitted that Khaled el-Masri was the innocent victim of mistaken identity, and described his transfer to torture in Afghanistan as an “erroneous rendition”. Mr el-Masri has a right to know exactly what was done to him, who was involved, and how these crimes were able to happen on European territory. This week’s hearing is an important step forward in this respect.”

For more information please contact Khaled El-Masri’s lawyer Filip Medarski +389 70 333 552 /

Notes for editors:

Background on Khaled El-Masri:

Khaled El-Masri was born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents. He was granted asylum in Germany and subsequently granted citizenship after marrying a German woman.

In late 2003, Khaled El-Masri travelled from his home in Ulm to go on holiday in Skopje. Macedonian agents seized him at the border and held him in a motel without charge for 23 days. They accused him of holding a fake passport and of belonging to Al Qaeda. It later transpired that they had mistaken him for a man called Khalid Al-Masri, an alleged member of the Hamburg Al Qaeda cell.

The Macedonians then handed El-Masri over to a CIA rendition team who flew him to Afghanistan, where he was detained and tortured for four months, even after the CIA’s Office of Technical Services at Langley confirmed that his German passport was in fact genuine. Despite extensive evidence of collaboration, both the US and Macedonian governments have publicly denied any involvement in his abduction.

Here is Khaled El-Masri’s public statement about his ordeal:

The US policy of “extraordinary rendition” has a human face, and it is mine.

I was born in Kuwait and raised in Lebanon. In 1985, I fled to Germany in search of a better life. I became a citizen and started my own family. I have five children.

On December 31, 2003, I took a bus from Germany to Macedonia. When we arrived, Macedonian agents confiscated my passport and detained me for 23 days. I was not allowed to contact anyone.

I was forced to record a video saying I had been treated well. I was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a building where I was severely beaten. My clothes were sliced from my body with a knife or scissors, and my underwear was forcibly removed. I was thrown to the floor, my hands pulled behind me, a boot placed on my back.

When my blindfold was removed, I saw men dressed in black wearing ski masks. I was put in a diaper, a belt with chains to my wrists and ankles, earmuffs, eye pads, a blindfold, and a hood. I was thrown into a plane, my legs and arms spread-eagled and secured to the floor. I felt two injections and became nearly unconscious. I felt the plane take off, land, and take off.

When we landed again, I was beaten and left in a dirty and cold concrete cell with a bottle of putrid water. I was taken to an interrogation room where I saw men dressed in the same black clothing and ski masks as before. They stripped and photographed me and took blood and urine samples. I was returned to the cell.

The following night my interrogations began. They asked me if I knew why I had been detained. I did not. They told me I was now in a country with no laws, and did I understand what that meant?

They asked me many times whether I knew the men who were responsible for the September 11th attacks, if I had traveled to Afghanistan, and if I associated with certain people in Germany. I told the truth: that I had never been in Afghanistan and had never been involved in any extremism. I asked repeatedly to meet with a representative of the German government, or a lawyer, or to be brought before a court. My requests were ignored.

In desperation, I began a hunger strike. After 27 days without food, I was taken to meet with two Americans — the prison director and another man, referred to as “the Boss.” I pleaded with them to release me or bring me before a court, but the prison director replied that he could not release me without permission from Washington. He also said he believed I should not be detained in the prison.

After 37 days without food, I was dragged to the interrogation room, where a feeding tube was forced through my nose into my stomach. I became extremely ill.

I was taken to meet an American who said he had traveled from Washington and who promised I would soon be released. I was also visited by a German-speaking man who explained that I would be allowed to return home but warned that I was never to mention what had happened because the Americans were determined to keep it secret.

Almost five months after I was kidnapped, I was again blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to an airplane seat. I was told we would land in a country other than Germany, but that I would eventually get to Germany.

After we landed I was driven into the mountains. My captors removed my handcuffs and blindfold and told me to walk down a dark, deserted path and not look back. I was afraid I would be shot in the back.

I turned a bend and encountered three men who asked why I was illegally in Albania. They took me to the airport, where I bought a ticket home (my wallet had been returned to me). I had long hair, a beard, and had lost 60 pounds. My wife and children had gone to Lebanon, believing I had abandoned them. We are now together again in Germany.

I still do not know why this happened to me. I have been told that the American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, confirmed in a meeting with the German chancellor that my case was a “mistake” — and that American officials later denied she said this. No one from the American government has ever contacted me or offered me any explanation or apology for the pain they caused me.

Background on Reprieve:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’


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